Holly and her husband, Masi (tall, dark, handsome, and European) own The Franklin Farm here in Grand Rapids. They’re also passionate about intentional living- community, conversation, co-creating. Gardening is making a huge comeback in popularity- especially in the cities- as people realize they both want and need more personal control over their food. But, gardening within city concrete can be hard. I asked Holly a few questions about the community garden at The Franklin Farm, and she obliged. Here’s part 2 of Urban Gardening (part 1 can be read HERE).
I shall entice you with a photo from the front-yard garden first:
Front yard: in the front yard, we get a little more decorative (though still edible) with our plants. We trail scarlet runner beans up the front of the porches, and plant yellow orange and red nasturtiums all over. Hiding within that are winter squash..with their giant yellow blooms. By mid-july it’s the most lush cacophony of colors on the block.
Best thing about growing produce in the city?
The best thing about growing produce Anywhere is being able to walk out your kitchen door and get still-warm tomatoes, fresh herbs, and some greens and have an instant gorgeous dinner. The great thing about doing it so completely in the city is that you challenge your neighbors and friends to rethink how they utilize the land they have around them. We’ve noticed several neighbors planting flowers since we started, in yards that were previously neglected completely. Because of our shared interest in growing things, we can also have conversations with our neighbors-about things other than the weather!
Hardest thing about gardening in the city?
I know for some people it can be finding good soil and enough sun. Thankfully, we have a cow share for raw milk …and any other animal by-products are thus part of our ownership as well. That takes care of the poor soil problem! I distinctly remember while house shopping making sure that the back yard, at least, would not be shady. That was on our list of needs for our home.
Do you fertilize or plant and pray?
We don’t do anything chemical, but we don’t just plant and pray either. We fertilize with organic cow manure, tilling in at the beginning of the year (and apologizing to the neighbors for the odd smell for a couple days). That seems to be plenty! Then we bring in beneficial bugs like ladybugs and praying mantis to ward off other bugs. We also ring all our beds with a small row of either garlic or onion-those smells do a good job of keeping predators out. (Please visulalize Katie taking notes here.)
I love the idea of a communuty garden and shared-work. How do you divy up the communal bounty between share-holders of the garden?
We have four households in our community, and everyone wants to be a part of the garden! But those households have different limitations of time, so we have a system to make sure everyone kind of gets what they give. We just keep a rough estimate going (so rough: like “a lot, somewhat, not much at all” kinds of estimates), and the more you put in to the garden, the more you get back. So if one household doesn’t end up doing much in the garden, they don’t get much of the “haul.” Basically, everyone can step out back to get things for dinner as needed/wanted and then the excess gets divided up according to those estimates. So our onion crop last year, for example, produced about 350 onions. Some of us got a bucketful, some of us got a small bag. And everyone felt like they were getting more than they had put in the work to deserve.
Best books for learning about gardening?
I’ve really enjoyed the books Food not Lawns and Grow Great Grub. Those are specifically for the city environment, and have some basics and some fun projects.
Are you and Masi equally yoked in the garden or does one person handle most of the dirty work?
Massi loves nurturing, so he’s the one who is constantly out there checking on everything, making sure everything is watered. He’s the constant caretaker. I, on the other hand, go gangbusters in the spring, setting everything up and organizing, then I slow down for a few months, then I go gangbusters again, harvesting and cooking and preserving and putting up for the winter. So over the year, we’re pretty equal. And we both get to focus on the part that we enjoy! The dirty work, for us, is the weeding. It’s very satisfying once you get started, but it’s too easy to put off.
From Holly: We will, in fact, be letting people know about events and things happening at The Franklin Farm (in the garden or otherwise) on our facebook page. Also, I’m not opposed at all to having people come and visit, maybe get some practice in if they’d like to get some “project based learning.” But seriously: they can come try it out, see how it’s done, get a feel for what it’s like for your backyard to become a farm. As it turns out, it’s not all that odd and pretty gorgeous. It’s a great way to get “out of the city” without leaving the city.
From KatieKate: I’ve got one more post up my sleeve involving compost & manure in the city, buying plants, building raised beds, and all that jazz next Monday. Until then, you can find Holly HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Onions curing: this is our dining table, full of about 400 onions-they had to be harvested, but it was forecasted to be a rainy week. so instead of curing them outside, our home smelled like onions and dirt for a week straight. I’m not gonna lie, I loved it.